By Bay City News
A Bay Area rapper was convicted of human trafficking and pimping charges in Contra Costa County Superior Court today and faces up to eight years in prison, a prosecutor said.
A jury today found Vallejo resident Joel Williams, 38, guilty of felony charges of human trafficking, pimping, pandering, transporting drugs and a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, Deputy District Attorney Chad Mahalich said.
Williams, also known by his rap name "J-Hype" under Vallejo recording label Thizz Nation, had at least three women working for him as prostitutes over the past few years, prosecutors said.
He was arrested in a Concord hotel room on Aug 23, 2012, after one of the victims called police, reporting that he beat her.
The woman, referred to in court as Jane Doe, also confessed to police that she had been working as a prostitute for Williams and that he had threatened to kill her if she attempted to leave.
The victim met Williams in November 2011 after moving to California from Minnesota.
She began working for another pimp, her boyfriend at the time, but left after he became violent.
Around the same time, the woman met Williams and the two became romantically involved.
Not long after, the defendant suggested the woman start working as an escort to help the couple pay their bills. She initially agreed, and would give him the money she earned from johns.
Later, the victim decided she wanted to stop working as an escort, which angered Williams. He became violent and threatened to kill her or to have her killed by another Thizz Nation associate, Mahalich said.
Several people affiliated with the recording label were involved in drug and violent crimes. Last April, 25 of those associates, including several rappers, were indicted in a federal drug trafficking case.
Williams himself was shot in 2010 after a man attempted to rob his gold necklace at a celebration in honor of famed Bay Area rapper Mac Dre in North Vallejo, who was gunned down in 2004.
Fearing for her life, the woman continued to work for Williams up until his arrest on Aug. 23.
During the arrest, he was wearing a gold medallion necklace engraved with the words "Thizz Nation" and had nearly $950 in his pocket, eight cell phones and a laptop computer containing photos used in his victims' online prostitution ads, Mahalich said.
Soon after, police also discovered that he was pimping two other local women.
He would update their escort profiles via the website myredbook.com.
One of those women denied ever working for Williams in court and said the allegations against him were untrue.
The other woman, Williams' former fiancée, also denied the allegations at a preliminary hearing, but returned to court during the trial and testified that the charges were true, according to prosecutors.
In his own testimony at trial, Williams said he thought the victim was only working as a stripper and that he never hit or threatened her, Mahalich said.
The jury disagreed, and Williams now faces up to eight years in prison. He is set to return to court for sentencing on March 27.
"He's lucky," Mahalich said.
The defendant could have faced up to 20 years in prison if he had been arrested later, since California voters in November overwhelmingly passed Proposition 35, which imposes harsher penalties on convicted human traffickers.
Nonetheless, the prosecutor said, the conviction sends a strong message against a widespread crime.
"It's everywhere -- it's 24/7, 365 days a year, in your hometown," he said. "There's a lot of women going through this and they are very marginalized and very vulnerable."
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